The ill effects of getting too little sleep — weight gain and increased diabetes risk among them — have been known for a long time, but now researchers think they’ve identified the cellular process for how sleep deprivation takes its toll. Just a few nights of scant sleep reduces the response of fat cells to the hormone insulin, which puts the body, at least temporarily, into a state akin to pre-diabetes.
A small clinical trial published last Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine compared fat cells in seven college students both before and after they slept 4.5 hours a night for four consecutive nights and found that their cells were 30 percent less responsive to insulin after their period of sleep deprivation.
“It’s the equivalent of metabolically aging these students by as much as 20 years,” said study co-author Matthew Brady, a molecular medicine researcher at the University of Chicago. “This is a real-world scenario where people cram for work deadlines during the week and then try to catch up on sleep on the weekends.”
What’s not known is how quickly the fat cells return to their regular metabolic state after a period of sleep deprivation, Brady added.